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I visited Cologne last year. I was taking a selfie with my phone's inner camera in front of a monument. I was unaware that my phone's outer camera was facing police officers conducting checks. One of them noticed it and approached me. He saw the picture of me with the monument instead of them, apologized for his misunderstanding then went back to work.

Is it an offense to photograph the police in Germany? I searched multiple websites but people gave very different answers and opinions, even on the same forum. I've never been charged for such offense anywhere in the EU but Germany is well known for its strict privacy laws and I do not wish to break any laws.

If it is indeed illegal and I get fined for it, will my past record add extra burden every time I visit Germany such as extra checks or questioning? Or is it something I can brush off since I live in Schengen anyway?

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  • I think it's important to make the distinction between simply photographing and actually publishing/distributing. If you film police (or anyone) and then post a video online in which you've censored their faces, this seems like a very reasonable usage. But if faces (or other Personally Identifiable Information) are released, it could pose problems. But then... if while you're filming/photographing you capture someone committing a crime, that changes the circumstances yet again. The footage may become important evidence. Hopefully you can get answers that address these nuanced scenarios.
    – Mentalist
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 7:12
  • The undercover U-Bahn ticket inspectors do not allow their photography, and I would not be surprised if it is illegal to photograph them. Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 13:02
  • You mention that the police were 'conducting checks' without further information. Depending on what that means, it may be that the problem was photographing a protected security procedure (like how you can't photograph security at airports in the US), not photographing the police. Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 21:55

3 Answers 3

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No, but...

It is not an offense to photograph people, especially if they are just caught at the edge or out of the center of the photography. However you do not have a right to photograph people either. In fact, under German law, you have to gain the consent of people that are the centerpiece of a photo for publication, or make the photo for a number of enumerated reasons. Among such is news reporting or documenting an ongoing crime - such material is made in the public interest. If you make a photo without consent or qualified reason, possession of the photo in general is no problem but you have no right to publish the photo.

To prevent such publication, the photographed person may demand deletion or destruction of the photo - however, following the demand is not explicitly required. Such a demand however is equivalent to an explicit demand to not publish the picture. As such, it gets really tricky for the photographer. Publication without a release (or a no-release statement) or one of the few excusing reasons is a punishable offense, which can land you in prison for up to one year. This stems from Art. 2 GG, §22, §23 and §33 Kunsturhebergesetz.

Hindering rescue services with your camera and creating photos of injured and vulnerable people is illegal under the same reasoning. Getting into the way of the police can constitute obstruction of emergency helpers atop of that. More on that specific part of German law can be learned in this question. Do note that such photography can also be a crime under §201a StGB, especially if your photography shows someone as vulnerable.

Another possibility for the approaching police might have been, that the policeman was interested to find out if you might have photographed or filmed the incident that led to the arrest. In that case, he might have requested a copy for evidentiary reasons.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 20:20
  • I don't understand this answer: it seems that taking pictures is perfectly fine, but publishing is complicated. However, the OP was not asking about publishing?
    – njzk2
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 19:39
  • @njzk2 you underestimate the reach of §201a StGB - even making such photos can be a breach of the personality rights. Also, because the photographed person often loses the control about publication of the picture once two people part, courts are often inclined to order deletion when a case about the "recht am eigenen Bild" is brought.
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 19:46
  • in fact, the highest german court has found (Urt. v. 13. 10. 2015, Az. VI ZR 271/14), that intimate photography that was created during a relationship can be demanded to be deleted if that relationship ends, as that material, if it would be published, would violate the highly intimate personality rights and even the possession of them by the ex-partner can violate those rights.
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 19:55
  • A photo on the streets is unlikely to violate those intimate personality rights unless the person is in the process of being made a victim of a crime or accident or directly after (see §201a (2) & (3) StGB). However, in a case of § 201a(2)/(3) StGB, the act of photography is illegal in itself unless there is a very compelling reason, which requires a very careful handling of the material after creation. E.g. media may make the material under the Medienprivileg, then must blur all faces of victims and control access to the unblurred material very tightly.
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 20:07
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NO

The Metropolitan Police offer the following clarity (which is reproduced in similar terms by the other 42 police forces and various law enforcement agencies):

Freedom to photograph and film

Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.


By way of some background: there has been some misunderstanding and misuse of the stop and search powers under section 43 Terrorism Act 2000. The issue being the officer's reasonable suspicion the person stopped may be a terrorist which, on occasion, was not subjectively reasonable.


Although tagged , I have answered according to the LawSE Help Centre: "we expect and encourage answers dealing with other jurisdictions ... please tag your answer using the tag markdown: [tag: some-tag]"

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  • The Metropolitan Police are not in Germany :) Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 18:52
  • 5
    @DavidPostill please see my second footnote, which I omitted in error first time round
    – user35069
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 18:59
  • 3
    @preferred_anon I don't think so, and if such a policy change is proposed then I would vote against it. FYI LawSEMeta has already discussed this, for example at Jurisdictions in answers
    – user35069
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 19:17
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    @preferred_anon No. This answer is exactly how it is supposed to work.
    – Trish
    Commented Aug 8, 2023 at 16:18
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    IMO the jurisdiction should also be mentioned in the answer itself. Tagging may be sufficient technically, but it is self-evident that it isn't sufficient to avoid confusion, based on these comments.
    – barbecue
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 17:55
0

Yes, usually it is.

The more specific answer is: it depends. There is no specific law that makes it illegal to photograph police per se. However Germany has fairly strict regulations towards privacy and right to your own image and it is usually illegal to photograph a person without their consent if their face is visible in details. This also includes policemen on duty.

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  • 3
    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Aug 7, 2023 at 21:30
  • does this add to the existing answers?
    – njzk2
    Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 19:40

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